Friday, June 28, 2013

Dominican Republic Groups Want President To Reject Openly Gay United States Ambassador Nominee, Judge Rejects Request To Recuse Himself From Hearing Lawsuits Filed Against Richland Washington Florist Who Refused To Provide Service For Gay Couple’s Wedding, Washington D.C. Police Investigate Four Recent Attacks Against Gay And Transgender Victims, Lady Gaga Makes Surprise Appearance At New York City Gay Pride Event As Police Step Up Security Following Hate Crime Attacks, Taylor Kitsch Holds Jonathan Groff

In the Dominican Republic, religious groups said Friday they are outraged by the nomination of a gay U.S. ambassador to the conservative Caribbean country. James "Wally" Brewster would be the seventh U.S. ambassador in history to be openly gay, but opponents are asking the administration of Dominican President Danilo Medina to reject his nomination. Rev. Cristobal Cardozo, leader of the Dominican Evangelical Fraternity, said he worried about the message that Brewster's presence might send, reports the Associated Press. "It's an insult to good Dominican customs," he said. Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez, president of the Conference of the Dominican Episcopate, echoed similar sentiments. "You can expect anything from the U.S.," said Lopez, who is also the archbishop of Santo Domingo. Meanwhile, Vicar Pablo Cedano criticized the nomination as "a lack of respect, of consideration, that they send us that kind of person as ambassador,” Cedano warning (without elaborating), "If he arrives, he'll suffer and will be forced to leave.” U.S. Embassy spokesman Daniel Foote said in a brief statement to reporters that Brewster was nominated because of his skills as an international businessman and his ideas on democracy and human rights. "Brewster arrives as an ambassador, he's not coming here as an activist for the gay community," Foote said. Local gay and lesbian activists condemned the outrage, saying the words of religious officials were filled with hate. Nominating a gay man as ambassador should be viewed as normal, according to a statement by the umbrella non-profit LGBT Collective. The groups' stance "contrasts with the silence maintained by prelates and pastors when it comes to sexual assaults on children," said Leonardo Sanchez, of the non-profit gay group Friends, Always Friends. Officials with Medina's administration have declined to comment on the issue. "It would be in bad taste for the state to comment on this nomination," said Cesar Pina, a judicial consultant to the presidency. The debate comes as activists prepare for an annual gay pride parade scheduled for Sunday in the capital of Santo Domingo, which has hosted the parade for about a decade. Brewster is currently a senior managing partner for the Chicago consulting firm SB&K Global. He also was a fundraiser for Obama and an inaugural committee contributor.

In Washington State, a Benton County Superior Court judge will not recuse himself from hearing lawsuits filed against a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple. Judge Salvador Mendoza rejected the recusal request from attorneys representing Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene's Flowers, during a pretrial hearing Friday afternoon. Two other judges have recused themselves from the cases in the past week. The request stemmed from Mendoza's recent service as a board member for Columbia Basin College, where Curt Freed, one of the plaintiffs, works. Mendoza said he interacted with Freed during board meetings but does not know him socially and sees no reason to remove himself from the case. “Believe me, ladies and gentleman, if there was a way ethically that I could not hear this case, I wouldn’t,” said Mendoza, who recently joined the bench. Mendoza did combine the two lawsuits (one a private lawsuit by Freed and Robert Ingersoll, the other by the Washington Attorney General) into a single case. He told attorneys representing all sides that he needs time to consider two other requests — whether the attorney general has jurisdiction in the case and whether to bring the attorney general in as a defendant himself. Stutzman refused to serve Ingersoll, a customer of nine years, in early March when he came in to order flowers for his wedding. She told him she couldn’t provide the flowers because of her religious beliefs. The incident led Ingersoll and Freed to write Facebook posts about it. That gained the attention of the attorney general’s office, as sexual discrimination falls under the state’s consumer protection and anti-discrimination laws. State justice officials filed their lawsuit in April. Freed and Ingersoll followed up with their own lawsuit a few weeks later. Stutzman filed a countersuit against the state, arguing it was trying to force her to act contrary to her religious convictions, a violation of her constitutional freedoms. Mendoza declared his connection to Freed to court administrators after reviewing court rules and regulations. He also disclosed it in court Friday at the request of Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers. Stutzman’s attorneys, Kennewick-based Alicia Berry and Everett-based J.D. Bristol, previously filed claims of prejudice against judges Carrie Runge and Cameron Mitchell, leading to their recusals. Berry argued that Mendoza should also step aside, citing the judge’s disclosure of his connection to Freed, the high-profile nature of the cases and the availability of another judge. “Do you want any question in anyone’s mind if there was impartiality or bias on your part?” Berry said. But Mendoza rejected those arguments. “My wife has bought flowers from Arlene's Flowers on several occasions,” Mendoza said, adding that also wasn't a reason to recuse himself. “That's what happens in small communities.” Berry and Bristol also argued that the attorney general doesn’t have the ability to prosecute Stutzman. It’s up to the Washington Human Rights Commission to determine whether Stutzman’s refusal to serve Ingersoll and Freed was an unfair practice under the state’s anti-discrimination law, Bristol said. “There’s no precedent, absolutely no precedent, for the attorney general to be doing this,” Bristol told the Tri-City Herald. Bowers asked Mendoza to block Berry and Bristol from making those arguments, saying the state is prosecuting Stutzman under consumer protection laws. While that may be connected to unfair practice as described in the anti-discrimination law, such multiple enforcement is common and allowed, he said. Bristol also wants to bring the attorney general in as a defendant, as it could provide his client attorney costs if she is victorious. Bowers said Stutzman and her attorneys are free to bring an independent claim against the attorney general but are misusing state law to entangle the state’s top prosecutor in this case. “You can’t use this to bring in other defendants,” Bowers said. Mendoza said he would review the briefs filed on both issues and give his decision in a few weeks.

In Washington, D.C., police are investigating four recent attacks — including a homicide — involving gay or transgender victims, although authorities have not classified any as hate crimes. Two incidents stemmed from disputes, and two were attempted robberies, according to police. Advocates for the gay and transgender communities, including the co-chairperson of Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, say two of the cases show elements of hate crimes. The unusual number of incidents has put the gay and transgender communities on edge, even prompting leaders to schedule a meeting late Friday at the DC Center on U Street NW. Earline Budd, founder of a group called Transgender Health Empowerment and the meeting’s organizer, said the attacks must be addressed regardless of motive in order to keep a vulnerable population safe. “It’s about folks being on alert,” Budd said. According to the Washington Post, the attacks came amid a historic week for gay rights, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and, in a decision not to hear a California case, paved the way for that state to resume recognizing gay marriage. There is no indication, however, that any of the recent violence in the District is related to the rulings. Although police have not deemed any of the incidents hate crimes, officials confirmed that the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit is involved in two of the investigations. The first in the series of attacks occurred early June 21, when patrol officers responded to a stabbing in Southeast Washington. Police said a transgender woman told officers that she and an acquaintance had argued over $40 for sex. According to Budd, however, the victim said she met the man to get a cigarette. She said a friend of the man spotted the two together and made an offensive comment about his being with a transgender woman. Budd said the victim thinks the man stabbed her to impress his friend. Police said the victim, who has been released from the hospital, was stabbed 11 times, suffering a collapsed right lung and severed tendon in her left hand. Police have charged Michael McBride, 23, of Southeast with assault with intent to kill. About 8:15 pm Saturday, a 35-year-old woman was shot and killed in the 1300 block of Stevens Road SE, police said. Budd said the victim was a lesbian well known in the gay community. She did not know the circumstances of her death, but police said the motive appeared to be attempted armed robbery. “This has not been classified as a hate crime,” said Officer Araz Alali, a D.C. police spokesman. Relatives of the victim could not be reached. Next, police responded Sunday to Manny & Olga’s pizzeria at 14th and U streets NW, where a man dressed as a woman reported being attacked after performing at a drag show at the nearby Black Cat club. The victim told the Washington Blade that he identifies as a gay man. A bystander shot video and appears to have encouraged the fight that left the victim bleeding from the head. The video, posted on the Internet, documents an argument between a woman and the victim that appears to be over makeup, but words were exchanged that could be interpreted as hate speech. Police said the woman bit the male victim in the thigh and threatened to give him AIDS. No charges had been filed as of Friday. Last, on Thursday, police said a woman was shot in the buttocks in the 6000 block of Eads St. NE, a well-known center of prostitution. Police and Budd said the victim was transgender. Both said the motive appeared to be robbery.

In New York City, Lady Gaga made a surprise appearance to help celebrate the start of gay pride weekend in New York City, saluting this week's victories in the Supreme Court while denouncing the recent violence targeting gays in the city. Lady Gaga, whose support for the LGBT community is well-known, took to the stage at a rally in TriBeCa to sing her own brand of the national anthem, altering part of the "Star-Spangled Banner" at one point to say, "Oh, say does that flag of pride yet wave." Pride Weekend in New York has long been a victory lap for tolerance and diversity, but this year, just days after same-sex couples won two Supreme Court victories, the kick-off concert was more emotional for Gaga and her crowd. In her first public appearance since a hip injury forced her to cancel her tour, Lady Gaga not only praised the ruling that handed same sex married couples federal benefits but also blasted the recent high-profile bias attacks in the city, including a fatal shooting in the West Village. "The violence that has taken place towards LGBTs in the past months is unacceptable here and anywhere," she told a crowd at a kick-off rally in TriBeCa. "Enough is enough." Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said there would stepped-up police presence at gay pride events, beginning Friday night and extend through Sunday night. Another NYPD official told NBC 4 New York police coverage will be doubled from past years. "There's been concern, rightly so, about some of the violence that's happened in the gay community -- we'll take that into account as far as our deployments are concerned," Kelly told reporters Friday. Last month, a 32-year-old gay man was shot in the head by a man who allegedly hurled anti-gay slurs before firing the shot. Several others were also targeted in violent attacks around the same time, and outrage over the bias crimes led to a march through the Village and calls for the violence to end. Police said at the time that anti-gay attacks had spiked in recent months. Kelly said Friday that police want to "make certain that we sort of provide a level of comfort, you might say, to people participating in the events this weekend." The gay pride parade begins at noon on Sunday, and goes from 36th Street and Fifth Avenue to Christopher and Greenwich streets.

Also in New York City, Taylor Kitsch spotted on the set of The Normal Heart, based on the mostly autobiographical play by Larry Kramer that charts the early, hysterical days of the HIV/AIDs crisis, Kitsch carrying co-star Jonathan Groff in a scene, Groff inexplicably wearing Snoopy boxerbriefs.

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